My husband came home from work early on Thursday and said, “I have to go to Savannah. Grandpa is dying.” He packed his bag, jumped back in the car and drove 5 hours to Savannah to be with his grandfather and family. Just before he left, he gave Lydia a hug and said, “Great-Grandpa is very sick. I think he’s probably going to heaven today.” And when we watched his car pull away Lydia cried and cried saying, “I don’t want Daddy to go! I don’t want Daddy to go!” She wasn’t really crying about her Daddy, or about her Great-Grandpa. She could just feel the seriousness of what’s going on in our family.
My husband has now been in Savannah for 4 nights. He is supposed to come home tonight. Mainly to pick up his sister from the airport tomorrow. Then we will all drive down to be together with the rest of the family. The hardest part is that Great-Grandpa hasn’t died yet. Every few hours they think he’s about to go. And then he regains a little strength. But today is the day they say he just can’t make it through. His body is at the end. So, we assume we’ll have a funeral in a few days and then kiss his family good-bye until the next wedding, or baby or funeral.
Last week, for some reason Lydia and I were talking about funerals. I was trying to describe without going into morbid detail about what happens at a funeral. She just didn’t understand how part of you could still be on earth if you had died and gone to heaven. She knows all about heaven and that her two great-grandmothers are there! I tried to explain about a spirit versus a body. But I hardly get it, so I certainly couldn’t describe it to her. I just reminded her about Jesus’ post-resurrection body that could walk through walls! So, that ended the conversation on a decently positive note.
Then the next week I heard a quote that so clearly shows the separation between body and spirit:
“You don’t have a soul. You are a soul. You have a body.”— George MacDonald*
Isn’t that lovely? As we talk about Great-Grandpa and death, as we visit the funeral home and say good-bye, I’m hoping to help Lydia understand this point. Great-Grandpa isn’t really dead. It’s just his body that gave out. Great-Grandpa is in heaven. And he is even more Great-Grandpa-ish than he ever was!
How have you explained death to your children? Any special scriptures or books that helped? Please leave a comment!
how beautiful… We are praying for Les’s family (and you) during this time. We haven’t had any deaths in our family, but Elias has asked a lot about dying and heaven. I will be tucking away the CS Lewis quote for the next time the questions come…
Love that quote from CS Lewis
This is a subject that weighs very heavy on me right now. A family in our church lost their father 2 years ago, the littlest was about the same age as Lydia. We worked with Hospice to process through his death. They say… <blockquote cite="Preschoolers do not see death as final, but as something temporary and reversible. Children need to feel secure…"
Their recommendation is to answer questions simply and honestly, draw pictures and read books together. Some books for younger children are: Nana Upstairs, Nana Downstairs by Tommie DePaola ; The fall of Freddy the Leaf by Leo Buscaglia; Lifetimes by Bryan Mellonie and Robert Ingpen; Children Also Grief by Linda Goldman. These may not all be from a Christian perspective, so review them first. Some focus on nature, some focus on feeling, some focus on commemorating.
If it is really effecting her, you should contact the local Hospice in your area. They offer many grief support groups for kids. Here we have a great group that meets once a month and they play and talk with other kids. Sometimes it just helps to know they are not the only ones experiencing death and the feeling involved. Hospice is willing to help with any loss, whether a parent, grandparent or dog.
The same family in our church just lost their mother about 2 weeks ago. The parents have entrusted me and my husband with the care of their children. What an honor, but great responsibility. I am thinking about writing a blog about our experience, but not sure about how to start.
If you have any questions, please feel free to email me. I will be praying for you and your family.
oh amanda says
Oh, Teri! Your comment gave me chills. What a huge huge blessing you are to those kids. Thank you for the book suggestions and the prayers. I am actually reading this in the library–waiting on my husband to finish work so we can go to Savannah.
My husband lost his father almost 2 years ago now. My odest was 4 when he lost is grandpa candy. We did lost of drawing to get the felings out, lots of going to Disneyland pictures with grandpa. We also explained much like C.S. Lewis’s quote(so great!) That Grandpa candy is in heaven. That whenever we miss him we can tell him what we want to say, draw him a picture, sing him a song, ect. We also explained his realtionship with God. You can’t see him, but you can feel him in your heart, and talk to him and he hears you. Grandpa is living in heaven with God, so we can feel him and God will tell grandpa all of the things you want to tell him. I hope that helps in some way, and I am very sorry for the loss your family is facing!
Donna @ WayMoreHomemade says
My daugher has experienced the death of both of my grandmothers in the last few years. The first to pass was my mom’s mom who had been sick for quite a long while. She, coincidentally, died on my daughter’s fifth birthday. It was her first experience with death other than that of a Beta fish. Maybe it is due to her natural disposition, but I have to also believe it was due to some supernatural intervention, but she took it all in stride. We did not sheild her from any bit of it. We explained plainly what would happen and that it was just traditionally how things went. She knew exactly what to expect. She went with us to the funeral home for the visitation and took my mom by the hand and said, “Let’s go see Nana.” We continually mentioned that only Nana’s body was left on earth but that, like you are trying to get across to your daughter, her soul was in heaven with Jesus. While I’m sure she didn’t fully understand it, I think she did as much as a 5 year old could. She would ask questions periodically and we would always give plain and simple answers as we were able. She saw all the flowers that were sent and wanted to take some of her own to the grave-side. We stopped and got some for her and let her pick them out to be specially from her. At the grave-side we couldn’t get her to leave. She wanted to see the casket lowered into the ground. Mercifully, the weather was starting to turn bad and rain was imminent and the grounds-keepers were a little more hasty than normal in their duties. She stood, right there as they lowered the casket and then picked up one of her flowers and tossed it in and it landed right on top. It was the perfect ending and that action, which would have been Spirit inspired was such a ministry to my mom and uncle.
I apologize for this being so long, but I tell that story just to encourage you to not underestimate how the Holy Spirit will work. I believe that even at that young age and before she had made an outward commitment to Christ that she was acting upon His prompting. We didn’t use any special verses or books that I can think of. He will explain it to her fully where we as parents fail.
God bless your family. Having gone through such a loss with all of my dear grand-parents, I know it is difficult.
oh amanda says
Donna! Comments are NEVER too long! Thank you for the great story. I think you’re right–just being as open and honest is the best bet. Grandpa died yesterday and we’ve been as normal and open as we can. Thanks for the example.
I’m so sorry for your loss. It’s a hard time for a family. I highly recommend “Heaven for Kids” by Randy Alcorn – my sister-in-law is dealing with her mother’s terminal illness and is using it to prepare her children.
oh amanda says
I love Randy Alcorn! I had forgotten he had a kids’ book!
My mother’s dog just had to be put down last week (TOTALLY different from great-grandpa dying, I know) so we had a little discussion about death again.
In the last two years we have had the last three great-grandparents pass away. One was quick, one was anticipated for a few days, and the other was the same way you’re talking about — keeps dragging on. Which is harder in some ways.
When we were driving past a cemetary a while ago, though, our 5 year old said “I know what that place is!” I was interested to hear what she remembered it as. Her reply was “That’s a place where you put flowers to remember people you miss.”
I thought that was a nice way to think about a cemetary.
Good luck dealing with the loss of a loved one.
oh amanda says
How sweet is that?! I think it’s a lovely way to say it.
Mandi @ Life Your Way says
I’m so sorry for your family’s loss, Amanda. I know it’s only temporary and we should be rejoicing for him, but it’s still hard on the rest of us!
My girls have been exposed to quite a bit of death. Although they were blessed to have 12 living great-grandparents at first (so many because of divorces and remarriages along the way), 5 of them have passed away in the last few years along with my step-mom, aunt, a close family friend and the three miscarriages I’ve had.
I think in some ways, experiencing it that much has helped, though, because they won’t ever be taken by surprise by it, and we’ve had lots of chances to talk about heaven, dying, etc.
We’ve always taken them to funerals (although we always have an extra unrelated adult or two on hand to take them out if they are going to disturb the other people at the funeral) because we think it’s an important part of understanding death and grieving, but we don’t do viewings or anything like that.
On the other hand, as much as I know it’s normal, it’s still a little odd that they take turns being dead and having funerals for each other for a few weeks after each one!
oh amanda says
LOL! That’s just play therapy! Kids love to act out what they’ve seen. When my dad was going thru Hepatitis C treatments Lydia would play doctor with the patient getting 5 or 6 kinds of drugs. Just like her Papa!
And thank you for saying that about the viewing. I don’t think we’re going to do the viewing. We’ll be there, of course, but I’m not going to make Lydia go up and look at him. *I* probably won’t even go up and look at him!
First of all, I am so sorry that this is going on. Please give Les a hug for me! In response to your posting, I have a friend who recently lost her third son after 30 days on Earth and was trying to explain the body and soul thing to her almost 3 year old. They were suggested to use a peanut in its shell. The peanut is the soul and the shell is the body. I thought this was an excellent tool for little ones. Here is the link to her specific post explaining it: http://apinisfamily.blogspot.com/2010/07/shells-and-souls.html. I hope this helps some. You guys will be in my prayers!
oh amanda says
Thank you so much. My heart breaks for your friend. I love that analogy—I’m going to use it with Lydia!
Years ago I heard soul/body/death explained as this: When it is cold, we need a sweater. It moves with us, fits perfectly and keeps us warm. Some people may even sentimentally associate us with our sweater because of memories made while wearing it. Yet, when we don’t need it anymore, we take it off and leave it behind. Once we take it off, the sweater is lifeless and has no feeling. The same thing is true of our physical bodies. We need this skin and bones for a while, but we won’t need it in Heaven. At death, we take it off and leave it behind. God has an entirely new and perfect wardrobe for us that love Him.
Hope that helps with your grief and explaining such eternal, delicate subjects to your little ones.
p.s. Love that C.S. Lewis quote too!